The family-focused, Wisconsin-based Great Wolf Lodge opened its first resort in Wisconsin Dells in 1997. Over the next two decades, it slowly expanded with more properties around the Midwest, moving into the Northeast, South, West and Canada. And this summer, the greater Chicago area will get its first resort from the brand.

Great Wolf Lodge Illinois, slated to open July 1 in Gurnee, will include the hallmark giant waterpark, family-friendly dining options and woodsy décor. The property will also have 7,800 square feet of meeting space, 414 guest rooms (including 14 suite styles) and a separate entrance for meeting guests to avoid the waterpark. It’s the result of a $40 million makeover to the former Key Lime Cove property.

Though the waterpark plays second fiddle to meeting groups looking to get business done at the resort, it has a nice perk: Guests have access to the waterpark at 1 p.m. on the day of check-in, so they can arrive early or with families in tow to take advantage of the fun facilities.

Meeting planners can also get creative with events at Great Wolf Lodge. They can use the 38,000-square-foot adventure park for teambuilding, or rent it out for “waterpark after dark” cocktail hour.

“How often can you have a cocktail party with these elements available to you?” says General Manager Emilio Fabico, noting the Illinois property will also have a lazy river, the funnel-like Whitewater Whirl waterslides and the Wolf Rider, for daring guests only.

Another attraction of Great Wolf Lodge Illinois is the brand’s newly revamped F&B program, which includes the farm-to-fork restaurant Barnwood. Guests will find fresh dishes made with locally sourced ingredients alongside a craft cocktail menu, also available to meeting groups.

The property is holding a job fair for nearly 600 positions at College of Lake County in Grayslake this week through May 18 (details), and is accepting reservations starting July 1, 2018.

Four Corners hospitality and TAO Group debuted the fifth iteration of the TAO nightlife concept in Chicago this month. Located in an 1892 building that was originally home to the Chicago Historical Society in River North, the two-level restaurant and nightclub dubbed TAO Chicago occupies 34,000 square feet of space and can accommodate groups of up to 1,800 guests.

 

Visitor spending in Rockford and Winnebago County reached an all-time high of $383.7 million in 2017, an increase of 8.3 percent over 2016. The increase in visitor spending put an additional 196 people to work in new tourism industry jobs, with spending now supporting 3,084 jobs countywide (an increase of 6.9 percent) and $93.8 million in payroll (up 9.6 percent).

 

Energy. Most meeting planners would agree that’s a key ingredient to any successful conference, and the 2018 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition—held at McCormick Place Aug. 18-21—was full of it. From an electric-powered city diorama and a digital caricature artist to a nitro-frozen margarita machine and a St. Louis’ Gateway Arch replica, the exhibit floor was like Disneyland for planners, packed with entertainment, refreshments and Instagram moments, along with networking opportunities aplenty.